Been talking 'EU matters' with two of Wales sharpest journalistic brains today. Firstly, Vaughan Roderick on Sunday Supplement and secondly, David Williamson of the Western Mail. It was mostly the same issue dominating my QandA session with North Shropshire Tories yesterday. Suppose I'd already put my cards on the table. In Sat. edition of Western Mail, I was reported as saying the Prime Minister has got his EU policy "spot on". Really am scratching my head to 'get' what the current furore is all about. Looks a bit like trying to find a way to create a row. Can only conclude there's a few other agendas running alongside the EU issue. I tend to respond to logic and facts, so lets look at a few - in no particular order;
a) - there's probably a majority of UK voters dissatisfied with the way the EU currently functions.
b) - there's probably a majority of UK voters who want a referendum on whether we should remain in the EU.
c) - such major changes may be needed to the EU constitution before May 2015 that a new EU treaty will be required, with a referendum needed to ratify it. This is now part of the UK constitutional arrangements
d) - the UK Gov't is a Coalition where one partner, the Lib Dems will not sign up to a genuine comprehensive renegotiation or an In/Out referendum before 2015.
e) - a genuine radical renegotiation cannot take place until May 2015 - and only then if the Conservatives win enough seats to govern without Lib Dems (unless an EU treaty referendum is called).
f) - any vote this coming week, or before May 2015 to legislate for a referendum is likely to be lost - though this is not totally certain because could be some Labour MPs ignoring party line.
g) - earlier this year, the Prime Minister announced that the next Conservative manifesto would commit to renegotiation before putting the result before the British people in a referendum in 2017.
h) - last Wed, Her Majesty delivered the 'Gracious Speech', written for her by her Gov't. Throughout history, Conservatives have always supported their own Queen's Speeches.
i) - Some Conservative MPs have tabled an amendment to the 'Gracious Speech' expressing regret that it did not have an EU Referendum Bill. Media reports suggest that the Chief Whip will allow a 'free vote' for all backbenchers (including PPSs) while Gov't Ministers will be allowed to (expected to) abstain.
j) - polling evidence informs us that the EU is not an issue that has a high significance on the general public's agenda. Even amongst those who voted for UKIP earlier this month do not have it in top three 'issues that matter'.
Make of all this what you will. But what is this Eurosceptic Tory MP to do. I have what I want - a commitment to a genuine renegotiation and a referendum on whether the UK remains part of the EU. I consider David Cameron's commitment to this as hugely significant - and something that has never happened before - or at least since Harold Wilson did something similar in 1974. Its what the UKIP party have long asked for - which is why UKIP welcomed the Prime Minister's statement at the time. I also feel an instinctive desire to support a Queen's Speech delivered only last week. It seems bizarre and rather un-Conservative to treat the 'Gracious Speech' with such casual dismissal - for what is no more than an indicative vote.
Big question of the day seems to be how politicians would vote if there was a referendum today. Totally hypothetical. There is not going to be a vote today. Rather less hypothetical (though not much) is how politicians would vote in 2017 if there were no changes in the relationship. It seems that senior Conservatives are queuing up to say they would vote for withdrawal. I, too would probably vote to leave the EU in such circumstances. But there will be some change - though maybe not enough. Anyway, after about 10 seconds thought, I decided that I will be voting against any amendment to the Queeen's Speech on Tues/Wed - assuming the Speaker allows it.
UPDATE - so much for my position. Tonight the Conservative Party has announced that a draft bill is to be published pronto, and all ways are to looked at for bringing it forwards in this Parliament. This changes the game somewhat - but only from a tactical standpoint in my opinion. The core policy remains that after 2015, a Conservative Gov't will seek a renegotiation, followed by an In/Out referendum in 2017.